A beginner’s guide to shearing sheep
by Dr Clive Dalton
Sheep grow wool continuously, so it is important to shear them at least once a year.
Shearing is generally carried out in spring, so that sheep don’t get overheated during summer.
If a sheep is not shorn, its fleece becomes so bulky that it has difficulty moving around.
The fleece can get water logged, and the sheep can become cast and unable to right itself. Also a long fleece is particularly likely to get daggy and soiled, making the sheep very susceptible to flystrike.
In very hot weather, sheep carrying too much wool will get heat stressed, and this is even more likely if the sheep is very fat.
When preparing for shearing don’t use any insecticide chemicals on the fleece for six weeks before shearing. When using chemicals on the wool, check the withholding times.
If sheep are dirty, prepare for shearing by having them crutched and dagged (ie remove dirty wool from the belly, and from below and around the tail).
Make sure the sheep are completely dry before shearing, otherwise cuts are more likely to become infected and the amp wool will heat and get mouldy when stored. Shearers will refuse to shear wet sheep as it can cause skin infections and boils.
To prevent damage to the shears and the sheep, warn the shearers if the sheep have large ear tags (plastic or brass). Make sure shearers are aware of any wethers among the ewes.
Hire skilled shearers to shear your sheep. Keep your sheep in yards overnight, preferably under cover, so their stomachs and intestines empty out a bit and so they remain dry even if it rains in the night. Don’t pack them in too tightly or they will dung on each other’s wool.
Because newly shorn sheep feel the cold, put them in paddocks with windbreaks and plenty of pasture after shearing. It may take six weeks for the fleece to regrow sufficiently to provide effective insulation. If you don’t have good shelter for your shorn sheep, or if you are shearing them in winter, ask the shearer to use winter combs. These leave a short layer of wool to help protect sheep from cold weather.
Sheep need extra feed after shearing. If there is insufficient pasture, step up the supplementary feed. The best time to apply louse and flystrike prevention treatments is after shearing, while the wool is short. Check the instructions on the packet.
Individual sheep coats or covers are a good option on small farms if the weather is cold or wet.